The Art and Science of Ownership

I’ve written in the past about the concept of ownership in different forms – mainly having to do with owning horses (or rather them owning us!) – but while attending Homecoming events at my alma mater over the weekend and reminiscing with the young alumni from our equestrian program (most of whom I mentored during their college careers), I found new and different perspective and I think it’s worth sharing with students who are presently in the midst of their own college search.

As I chatted and laughed with the group of young adults I still refer to as “my kids” – a group now made up of lawyers, medical professionals, scientists, marketing gurus, and all kinds of other “grown up” jobs – it was wonderful to hear them share memories of the adventures we shared while training at the barn and traveling to meets in the region. As with all horse people, anytime you’re in a group like that, many stories begin or end with “the time so-and-so fell off/was bucked off/got run off with” or with “the time we were lost in Canada/Ohio/West Virginia” and a great deal of laughter is heard. But the common thread throughout the weekend was that of ownership.

My kids – these young alumni – feel a sense of pride in the program they spent so much time being a part of during their undergraduate careers. It was a young program when they enrolled as first year students, which meant many of the events they participated in and accolades they won have now become part of the fabric of the existing program. But more than that, we as a staff saw it as our primary responsibility to mentor and guide them, to give them opportunities both to succeed and (sometimes) to fail so that they could develop the skills that now help them in their work and in their riding pursuits today.

And by giving them that support, we allowed them to take ownership both of the program and of the paths each of their lives would take.

If you’re a high school student searching for a college right now, the easiest thing to do is to schedule a campus visit and take a tour. No. Really. It’s simply a matter of finding a date that works on your calendar, signing up online or calling the admission office, and getting there. Guides will show you classrooms and dorms and places to eat and study and you can spend time meeting with faculty and coaches and getting a feel for what the place is like on a normal class day.

But there’s a hard part to the search – the hard part is discovering and then deciding which college/university and which program (academic or riding or both) will allow you the right opportunities and support to own your college experience.

Who will grant you the power of ownership?

There’s no easy answer to that question, unfortunately. As with owning horses (or them owning us), it’s often a bit more art than science – and, again, as with horse ownership, you need both the art and science to know that you’ve made the right decision for yourself. In the case of the college search, the science is everything I just outlined above in the campus visit and the research that you’ll do online and with your guidance counselor or educational consultant to know that you’re an academic match for the schools on your list.

The art, however, is far more personal.

The art is what happens when you sit down with students from your area of academic interest and the riders from the equestrian team or club. And by “sit down,” I mean one on one – no parents, no coaches, no staff. Just you and those students having a conversation about who you are and who they are and determining if those are the type of people you want to spend the next four years with.

The art is what happens when you outline your riding goals with the riding coach and find out if they match up with his or her program, then ask questions about what your everyday life will be like if you’re a member of the team. What will the expectations of you outside of riding be? Do you feel like this is the person you want to be your mentor in the fall?

Art also happens in the classroom; is there an academic outlet that inspires you? A faculty member who you would be excited to learn from in your area of interest (or areas of interest)? And what about the students – are these the people you want to study with at 3:00 in the morning for your midterms? Will they inspire you to think and work harder? Push you to become your best possible self?

Are they people you want to be friends with?

Ownership of anything isn’t an idea to be taken lightly – cars, horses, the perfect pair of jeans, your college education. (Ask me how long I searched for a young dressage prospect again…) It’s a commitment and investment on many levels – of time, money, emotions, trust, etc. But if you seize the right opportunities at the right time, you might just find yourself visiting your alma mater one day with your former classmates (and lifelong friends), walking around in a warm glow as you reminisce about the days when you used to own that campus.

I hope you do anyway.

(Need help finding the college you want to own? Contact me or pick up a copy of my book to guide your search.)

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